three puppies sitting on a staircase
Pet Behavioral Problems

Why Won’t My Dog Walk Upstairs or Downstairs Anymore?

If your dog has gone up and down stairs confidently since they were a puppy, it can be hard to see them struggling with the stairs all of a sudden.

Some dogs won’t go down stairs anymore due to age, illness, and fear. If you see your dog wanting to go down the stairs to be with you, but seems scared, there are some things you can do that will make life easier.

Understanding why your dog is having difficulty with stairs is the first step. Sometimes, the problem can be something treatable. Other times, they might need pain management treatment. Unfortunately, there are problems with stairs that dogs don’t overcome. You may need to find ways to adapt so they can continue to get from room to room as they please.

If your dog doesn’t want to take the stairs anymore, don’t lose hope or feel too bad for your pet. There’s no reason your dog still can’t go up and down the stairs with a little help from you!

Table of Contents:

Why is My Dog Hesitant on Stairs?

This guide will cover the reasons why dogs may stop going up and down stairs all of a sudden. Some dogs may even go downstairs but not upstairs. As your dog’s owner, you should be able to get a good idea of how your dog feels when they’re at the top or bottom of a staircase. Do they look scared? Do they act like they’re in pain if they take a step?

You can then start looking at different solutions to get your dog mobilized on the staircase once again.

Why is My Dog Afraid of Stairs Suddenly?

Dogs have an instinct to stay away from the unknown. If they can’t figure out what the outcome is going to be, they usually choose to avoid it. A fear of the unknown is common in most dogs, which is why we introduce things to them one step at a time as puppies.

As you might expect, it’s not uncommon for puppies to be scared of going upstairs or downstairs. If they’re at the top of the stairs, the decline could look like they’re jumping off a cliff! If they’re at the bottom looking up, it may seem like an incredibly daunting climb.

Puppies learn a step at a time when it comes to taking stairs. Before long, they’re running up and down the staircase faster than anyone else in the house. But, what about a dog who has never been afraid of the stairs until recently?

If you’ve had a dog for several years and he’s showing signs of hesitation on the stairs, there could be several potential reasons:

  • Always learning: Dogs are continually learning. That old saying about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks isn’t true. Unfortunately, along with constantly learning, they could develop new phobias or fears at any time. Sometimes, there may not be an apparent reason. Something might become frightening for your dog that wasn’t before, and you’ll need to work them through it.
  • An accident or injury: Your dog may have a good reason to be afraid of the stairs if he had an incident involving them. This could be something as simple as tripping over a step. Or, maybe they fell down the stairs without you knowing what happened.
  • Noises: Dogs have excellent hearing. Sometimes, that can be a disadvantage if they start to associate scary sounds with everyday things. For example, if your dog was going up the stairs and got startled by a sound, they might think it came from the stairs. Dogs are quick to associate sounds with certain places, and it can take a while to train them to be comfortable.
  • Location: Your dog also might not like the stairs because he associates them with going somewhere ‘bad.’ For example, if you bath your dog upstairs and he doesn’t like it, he might be hesitant to go up there.

puppy standing on a staircase

Large Dog Who is Afraid of the Stairs

If you do need to re-train your dog to take the stairs, then you should do it one step at a time – literally. There are options for smaller dogs that can make it easy to carry them or transport them up the stairs. With larger dogs, though, you’ll find it much easier to try to break the fear habit.

  • Tip: Just as the fear could have started with a negative association, you should use positive associations to help fix it. Place one of your dog’s favorite treats on the stairs. You can even start at the bottom and place a treat on each step leading to the top.

Encouragement is critical, and it also works as positive reinforcement for your pup. If they start to show any interest in the stairs, be sure to praise them as much as you can.

This can be a time-consuming process and takes a lot of patience. But, don’t force your dog to go up and down the stairs. If they have suddenly become fearful, comfort them as much as possible and let them re-learn the ins and outs of a staircase on their own time.

My Dog is Scared of See-Through Steps

Maybe your pet is fine with the stairs inside, but they won’t go up or down deck stairs or any stairs that have spaces between them. Unfortunately, these stairs are common outside of people’s homes, especially on porches.

  • Important: It isn’t usually the stairs themselves that frighten your dog. It’s the see-through spaces between. Again, these spaces represent the unknown to your dog. It can also be a little confusing, and they might not be exactly sure where to put their feet.

One of the best solutions is to place a thin blanket or sheet over the stairs. This will allow the steps to retain their shape but will hide the see-through spaces. Once your pet gets used to walking up and down the steps several times, you can remove the sheet. This can take some practice and patience, but over time your dog should be able to run in and out of the house on outdoor steps.

My Dog Can Go Downstairs but Not Up

Sometimes, dogs can develop a fear of going up the stairs, but not down. This can also happen the opposite way, too. As stated above, when a dog is sitting at the bottom of a staircase, think about what they might see.

Of course, your dog could also be trying to tell you something about the state of their health by not going up the stairs. Traveling upstairs takes a lot of work for dogs, especially from their hind legs. If they’re in pain or feel stiff and achy, they might not want to go up the stairs.

If your dog seems hesitant to go downstairs, it could be because they feel a little wobbly. It can take a lot of work for dogs to find their balance and feeling uneasy while looking down a long flight of stairs can make almost any dog feel anxious.

Related article: Dog Walking Sideways

How to Get an Old Dog Upstairs

If your dog isn’t scared of the stairs, their hesitation might be connected to their age. It’s common for older dogs to have joint and muscle issues, especially if they’re large. Problems like arthritis can affect senior dogs and make it feel impossible for them to get up the stairs.

Dogs use their back legs to push themselves from step to step. Joint problems make this nearly impossible. So, as the back legs start to weaken, your older dog might decide they don’t even want to bother with stairs anymore because it’s too much work or takes too much time. In some cases, it can even be painful or exhausting for them.

Thankfully, there are options you can try when it comes to getting your senior dog up and down the stairs freely again.

  1. You can try to strengthen their back legs and hips. An over-the-counter joint medication, such as Turmeric Curcumin for Dogs, is highly recommended. Most of these medications are considered completely safe and will help with things like inflammation and joint stiffness.
  2. You can also help your dog to regain some mobility in their back legs by taking them to a specialist. Physical therapists for dogs exist, and they can be a big help in strengthening joints and muscles.

dog lying down at the bottom of stairs in a home

My Dog is in Pain Going Up the Stairs

If your dog acts like it hurts going upstairs, never try to force them to make the trip. When a dog starts acting reluctant to take the stairs, it’s likely a problem with his back or back legs. Just like the issues with senior dogs, even young dogs can injure their legs.

Look at a potential back issue within your dog. It could be a pulled muscle or sprain. Thankfully, those issues usually go away with time and a little rest. The problem could be something more serious, like a herniated disc, arthritis, or even torn ligaments.

In many cases, your dog can be treated for back issues. Even if it takes something like surgery to fix the problem, it isn’t impossible. It takes time to heal, but a dog who has had back problems treated should eventually be able to go up and down stairs again with minimal problems.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always the case. Some back issues can’t be treated. Or, if they can, your dog’s back may never be as strong as it once was. They might always experience a nominal pain. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the solutions you can use for senior dogs or dogs who might be in pain to help them get up the stairs.

How to Get My Dog Upstairs Safely

If you don’t want to put your dog through physical therapy or give them medications, some products can help.

These products are easy to use and will make your dog much more comfortable on their ascent up the stairs and back down again:

  • Pet Carrier: The right pet carrier can make it easy to tote your dog upstairs. If you want to use a carrier that can also double for other forms of travel, we recommend the Sherpa Original Deluxe Pet Carrier for comfort and safety up and down the stairs.
  • Harness: If you have a larger dog, a harness to carry your dog upstairs can be a great option. Harnesses are sometimes known as lifting mobility aides. They are easy to use and can help to take the pressure off your dog’s back legs.
  • Dog lift: Electronic lifts can be installed on your staircase to escalate your dog up and down safely. If that seems a little excessive, you can try a ramp going up the stairs. This can make the terrain look smoother and flatter, so it won’t be as intimidating if your dog is scared. If they have joint problems, a ramp that goes continuously upward won’t be as hard on your dog’s back legs.

Should I Carry My Dog Up the Stairs?

The solutions and products listed above should only be used if your dog is in pain going up the stairs or absolutely cannot do it on their own. If you have a pet who is suddenly scared or refuses to take the stairs, you should try a re-training program.

Carrying your dog up the stairs when they’re able to go on their own might seem like a good option because you want the dog with you and your family. But, you could be teaching a bad habit that will become hard to break.

A dog who doesn’t want to go up the stairs might start to whine, and it can be easy to give into that whining and carry them up. But, that’s a learned behavior for them that can get worse over time. If you don’t continue to carry them each time they whine, it could become louder and stronger, and they may not stop until you finally carry them up. That can become exhausting for you and your family quickly.

Is it a bad idea to carry your dog upstairs once in a while? No. Doing it now and then can help to show them that the stairs aren’t something scary or unusual. You also shouldn’t feel bad about carrying them or using one of the products listed here if they’re injured or older. You never want your pet to be in pain when climbing the stairs.

But, don’t make a habit of it for dogs who could get up the stairs by overcoming their fears or seeing it as an obstacle. It will be much harder to get rid of this habit than it will be to re-train them to lose their fear.

senior lady looking happy with her dog at the bottom of some stairs

Can I Pull My Dog Upstairs?

Some owners think they can ‘train’ their dog by pulling them up or down the stairs with a leash. Unfortunately, this is rarely a successful practice and can make your dog even more frightened.

If your dog is scared to go down the steps, pulling them will likely cause them to dig in, even more, putting on the brakes and staying put right where they are. If you’ve ever been on a walk with your pup when a bout of stubbornness comes on, you know exactly what this action is. If your dog decides they aren’t moving, it can be challenging to get them to budge.

A forceful push or pull down the stairs is also never a good idea. Even if you have the calmest dog in the world, a dog’s reactions to things can change when they feel scared or threatened. If your pet is already scared, pushing them or touching them with force could result in you getting bitten. Don’t scold your dog for this response – it’s a defense mechanism.

Instead of trying to force your dog up or down the stairs in any way, use one of the suggestions listed in this guide. Or, try one of the products that can make it easier on you and less stressful for your canine companion. If your dog has joint problems due to arthritis or the natural aging process, then giving them Turmeric Curcumin for Dogs could help to improve their mobility.

If your dog seems hesitant going up or down stairs, the best thing you can do is try to figure out why. It’s normal for a young puppy to be a little nervous when they’re unfamiliar with stairs. But, if you have a full-grown dog and they stop using the stairs suddenly, there’s likely to be an underlying problem that needs to be corrected.

Last update on 2022-01-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API